Incensed striking workers on Thursday booed and denied a Btv reporter and cameraman coverage of the handing over of a petition to the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Mokgweetsi Masisi.
“Where have you been all these days? Who could be the most important person you have come to cover here today,” unionist Gobusamang Mothambisa taunted BTV reporter Ernest Phiri who said he had no comment amid the booing.
This after both the government-controlled electronic and print media offered little or no news coverage of the ongoing ten-day strike action by civil servants while they continued to feed the viewers with the official line regarding the strike action.
The striking workers and other viewers and listeners have come to rely, in addition to local private radio stations, on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television and radio as well as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio for content that they view as not censored.
It appears the government likes it that way.
Minister Mokgweetsi Masisi has, however, denied a news blackout on the country’s five public sector unions by the government controlled media.
The Minister says what BTV is doing is communication to the nation about the situation from the government of the day so the action should not be seen as propaganda.
“I’ll admit that we have a programme to communicate information to the nation as a government regarding the strike action out of essential necessity. We are not denying the Unions access to the government press. They are free to approach the government press. In fact, the unions have been very vociferous against the government in both the public and the private press,” Masisi told the Sunday Standard immediately after receiving a petition from the five public sector unions on Thursday, accompanied by his assistant minister, Patrick Masimolole.
The minister also denied allegations that he had instructed the Head of News at Botswana Television to suppress content that may give the unions mileage.
“That is reprehensive allegation. It is totally untrue,” he said.
Asked to explain what the Minister of Health Dr. John Seakgosing, meant when he said the strike action had little or no impact on health services when the situation on the ground is the opposite, Masisi defended his colleague saying he was quoted out of context.
“He never said all is well. What he said was that health facilities are functioning,” said Masisi.
Asked if he agreed that all is not well in the country since the beginning of the strike action, Masisi replied: “Of course. It’s obvious,” he said.
Masisi knew better. As he waited to receive a petition from striking workers accusing the government of breaking strike rules and employing unlawful tactics, such as replacing labour before the 14 day window period, a reality stared before him. A doctor clad in surgery attire held a placard that read: “Drive carefully. No doctors this Easter.”
Masisi threw fired a salvo at opposition parties for supporting workers’ demand for a 16 percent wage hike saying the opposition and the unions are in fact asking his government to make history by offering a 16 percent increment while other economies that were affected by the global recession have not done so.
Masisi said the very same opposition that is supporting the unions is alive to the fact there is no money.
“Only in this past budget, opposition [MPs] agreed that parliament should authorize the Minister of Finance to borrow P6.9 billion. They are aware that there is no money,” argued Masisi.
Striking civil servants are demanding a 16 percent raise while the government is offering a conditional five percent hike. The government says it needs P2 billion to meet the demands for workers.
The strike is planned to resume on Tuesday after the Easter holiday break.